Friday, 16 October 2015

Review - 'Arrow', S04E02 - 'The Candidate'

The first episode of the fourth season of Arrow got things off to a very impressive start. It established the lighter tone for this season, particular through Oliver's more hopeful attitude. It introduced a great new villain for the season with Damian Darhk. And, it still managed to top it off with some entertaining action sequences. It was only the first episode of the season, sure, but it left me hopeful that Arrow may have managed to overcome some of its issues from the third season. So, it's probably fair to say that my hopes for the second episode of the season were fairly high.

The primary catalyst for conflict in this episode is an old friend of the Queen family, Jessica Danforth (Jeri Ryan), who returns to Star City prepared to announce her intention to run for mayor, in spite of the clear danger that represents. Inspired by the Green Arrow's efforts to keep the city safe, Jessica his determined not to let herself be cowed by Damian Darhk and his militant organisation. Regardless of the fact that the leadership of Star City has, only recently, been killed off, and the fact that no one else is even willing to consider taking on the role of mayor of Star City, Jessica is determined to try to become the symbol of hope that she believes the city needs.

It's a noble sentiment, certainly - and, you can see the conflicted feelings that her announcement causes for both Oliver and Thea. Neither wants a family friend to place herself in such obvious danger, yet both clearly also feel some degree of admiration that she would be willing to do so. So, rather than continuing in their efforts to talk her out of her plans, Oliver and Thea instead resolve themselves to act as her behind-the-scenes body-guards - determined to protect her from the seemingly inevitable attempts on her life.

Of course, she only manages to get a few minutes into her announcement before the first attempt on her life is made - though, it comes from an unexpected source. Rather than dealing with Jessica himself, it seems that Darhk has handed the task over to Lonnie Machin (Alexander Calvert), a reckless and sadistic criminal enforcer desperate to prove himself to a potential new employer. Oliver and Thea are able to foil Lonnie's first attempt on Jessica's life. But, of course, that only inspires him to try again - this time, targeting Jessica's daughter. Of course, it seems that Lonnie isn't the only problem that Oliver has to contend with this episode - as Thea's increasingly aggressive behaviour is becoming more of a concern.

In the previous episode, we saw our first hints that Thea's dip in the Lazarus Pit, following her near-death experience last season, had finally begun to affect her behaviour. Her increasingly violent and erratic behaviour had seemed, at the time, like the first hints of the character arc that was intended to carry Thea forward throughout the season. Rather than drag the matter out with more subtle hints, though, this episode addresses the matter head-on - with first Oliver, then ultimately Thea herself, quickly coming to realise that there is something very wrong with her. It should also be said that Willa Holland's performance during the season's action sequences so far, and particularly these moments of Lazarus Pit-induced rage, has been very impressive, so far. As someone who wasn't entirely convinced by her rapid transition into costumed vigilante (an issue I also have with Laurel Lance's transition into the new Black Canary), I think I might be coming around.

It's definitely an interesting choice to have this particular issue be addressed so soon - and, hopefully, the arc that it has set in motion for both Thea and Laurel will be just as interesting. Because, of course, now that Laurel has learnt of the existence of the Lazarus Pit, she now believes that has found a way to bring her sister back to life. I do have to admit that I found Laurel's line of reasoning here a bit strange, though. Of course, anyone who had been paying attention would already know that Sarah Lance was going to be coming back in some form (she has, after all, already been announce as a part of the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow) - but, it still seems strange that Laurel would decide on taking her to the Lazarus Pit so quickly. After all, the first she actually heard of the Pit was a discussion of the negative consequences it has had for Thea. I would have thought that, at least, she would want to do a bit more research before digging her sister's body up and taking her all the way to Nanda Parbat - where they would be required to throw themselves on the mercy of the League of Assassins. But, still - it's family, so I suppose some degree of recklessness is to be expected.

While all of this is going on, we also have a new sub-plot for Felicity which, unlike some of the Felicity focused plot-lines of the past, is actually looking fairly promising. Finding herself thrust into her new role as CEO of a slowly dying company, Felicity finds herself stuck with the unpleasant job of firing employees - but, she also finds an unexpected ally in Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum), a talented young employee of Palmer Technologies who may be able to help her develop a plan to save the company. Sure, this particular sub-plot might felt fairly mundane when compared to everything else that's going on - but, that seems like the whole point. It adds an important 'human' element alongside the increasingly outlandish, although entertaining, action. Also, Curtis already seems like he will be an entertaining addition to the cast - and, Curtis and Felicity have already built up an entertaining rapport. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing Curtis interacting with the rest of the cast in the future.

Of course, for comic-book fans, this episode will also be notable for laying the ground-work for the eventual inclusion of two more characters from the comics. First, we have Curtis Holt, who we may see grow into a variation of the hero, Mr Terrific. Then, there's Lonnie Machin, the sadistic criminal who, by the end of the episode, will have already made significant progress toward becoming the villain, Anarky. As someone who is not overly familiar with the comics, I can't really comment on how faithful these new interpretations may be - but, they both fit well into the show. Curtis Holt will clearly contribute to the promised lighter tone of this season (hopefully without ending up purely as comic-relief - though, there doesn't seem to be much risk of that), while Lonnie Machin makes for a genuinely dangerous new foe - even if he does, admittedly, come across as a fairly one-dimensional sadist, so far.

The 'flash-back' story for this season also seems to have got off to a fairly impressive start, with Oliver being forced to return to Lian Yu only to find it now populated by drug traffickers and their slave labour. So far, it's not entirely clear where this story is going, or how it is going to relate to the 'modern day' struggle against Damian Darhk - but, Oliver's mission to infiltrate this group and earn their trust definitely places him in an interesting position.

Overall, this is a great follow-up to the season's first episode. It's an episode that continues to build on the promised lightening of the overall tone with same great moments of genuine warmth and humour (many of which seem to centre around Oliver and Felicity - honestly, the idea that Oliver would find time to make Felicity a packed lunch before she heads off to work is both hilarious and kind of adorable), but without letting these lighter elements undermine the moment of action or drama. It's a balancing act that season four of Arrow seems to be managing quite well, at the moment - and, hopefully, it is one that the show will be able to continue to manage.

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